GC '07: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 Hands-On

The Leipzig Games Convention 2007 is finally open, and we wasted no time heading to the Konami booth for hands-on play of the latest Pro Evolution.

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LEIPZIG, Germany--While last year's Pro Evolution Soccer was as playable as ever, there was a noticeable uprising among fans who felt the series wasn't progressing enough. Problems, such as the poor commentary, lack of official licences, and generally poor presentation are becoming increasingly unacceptable. This is particularly true on the next-generation consoles, such as the Xbox 360. So there's a reasonable amount of pressure on Konami this year to reaffirm Pro Evolution Soccer as the premier football series on the market. While the game convention demo sadly didn't offer us any insight into the commentary or domestic leagues, it was encouraging to see how much better the game was presented on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 than on previous iterations.

Jumping at the chance to play the first version of Pro Evolution Soccer for the PlayStation 3, we were pleased to see how good the game looked. Now 75 percent through development, the game looks noticeably sharper on the PS3 at this point than on the Xbox 360. The extra fidelity really helps you spot individual players and appreciate the extra detail in the animation. The players also move in a very realistic manner. For example, Argentina's Cambiasso has a much more laboured running style than Brazil's Ronaldinho. Both characters were immediately recognisable thanks to the increase in resolution, with a noticeable bald patch on Cambiasso and the trademark long hair on the little Brazilian.

However, the improvements aren't just limited to the player appearance. While the commentary and sponsors were still not in place for the demo, the menu systems boasted more pizzazz than in previous games. For example, 3D models now show off your kit selection instead of the static models of before. When you pause the game, you now get a live camera feed showing the subs and manager eagerly watching from the dugout. There were also some nice incidental details, such as the way players bend over and tighten their laces when the ball goes out of play. Additional details include the referee visibly blowing a whistle for free kicks and the ripple effect on the netting, which is as nice as ever. Strangely though, the referee doesn't blow his whistle for kick-off on the PlayStation 3 version, but perhaps this was yet to be included in the preview build.

The PlayStation 2 version of the game on show had fewer teams than the PS3 and 360 versions, with just Brazil and Portugal on offer. It was difficult to spot the differences between this game and its predecessor on the PS2. But on closer inspection, the animation and player likenesses have been improved. The player-ball interaction certainly feels better, and players make more subtle changes to their direction than they did before. We found that the goalkeepers tend to spill the ball more often, especially when deflecting more powerful shots. This was demonstrated by our first goal, which blasted the keeper backward as he waved his arms to stop it in its path. Players also time their sliding tackles much better than they did before, and we were soon performing slides in the box with much more confidence than we did in last year's game. Players also move their mouths in a more realistic fashion when congratulating teammates on a goal.

We left the Konami booth feeling as though each version of Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 had its subtle differences. The Xbox 360 joypad still feels awkward compared to Sony's DualShock2 and Sixaxis pads; thus, we hope Konami has spent the last year improving on the last game's poor Xbox Live code. We also have yet to find out how the PlayStation Network offering will differ from the Xbox Live online play, or if it will even differ at all. The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions of the game will go on sale in October this year, while the Wii version is now promised for next year. With FIFA 08 looking stronger than ever, Christmas certainly looks like an exciting proposition for football fans, and we hope to bring you more on both games in the very near future.

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